Perception and Justification

Before I got to Syracuse I never thought
about temporal parts. Now I have drafted a couple of papers
on them. Before I got to Brown I never seriously thought about ‘core’
epistemology. I never thought philosophy of science was philosophy enough, but
I guess I suspected it was epistemology enough. Anyway, I’m at Brown, so now I
think about epistemology. And I’ve been thinking about perceptual
justification. I’m a little closer to the skeptical position than seems to be
popular these days, in part because of the following example. (The example is
an obvious ripoff of Bonjour’s Clairvoyant Claire.)

Blind Belinda has been blind since birth. Her blindness is caused by a genetic
disorder; in fact, all of her family is blind, and they mostly mix with other
blind families. So at age 7, when our story takes place, Belinda doesn’t really
know that there is such a thing as sight.

night of the story, Belinda is kidnapped by the BLA, who think blind children
should be integrated into the wider community. She is drugged and carried off,
not blindfolded, of course, while the rest of the family sleeps.

being carried out, Belinda gets a rather fateful bump in her head. It turns out
the reason the disorder caused blindness was just that it caused two parts of
the visual system to not ‘line up’, a good bump and they would be together and
everything would work. (Rather like my car stereo, I’m afraid to say.) So when
Belinda wakes from her little adventure, in a rather strange room, she can see
her surroundings.

BLA, despite allegedly having the blind children’s best interests at heart,
treat their new captives like, well, captives. So when Belinda wakes she is
tied down on a chair, in a soundproof room. The soundproofing is achieved by
having the walls covered in egg-carton like sound mufflers. The bulk of
Belinda’s new visual field is taken up by these things. It looks nothing like a
wall to her – walls she knows about, at least inside walls, are smooth, and
this looks like it would be very rough. She cannot feel this wall, to see if it
really is not smooth (let’s use ‘rough’ for this property, although this isn’t
exactly right to describe the wall in question).

my main intuition is that Belinda’s visual perception that the wall is rough
does not provide her with justification for believing that the wall really is
rough. In general, until Belinda can verify that her new visual perceptions
integrate well with the perceptions provided by sight and sound, something she
can do pretty quickly once the ties are removed, and that she can do to some
degree while tied down, I doubt her visual perception provides much by way of
evidence for anything much. I sort of think, and think Belinda would think this
too while she reflects on her predicament, that she should have the same
attitude towards her visual perceptions that Clairvoyant Claire has towards her
clairvoyant states.

that I don’t say that we need to defeat the skeptic to rely on perceptual
evidence. I think Belinda can trust her visual perceptions once she verifies
them using other perceptual systems. And I don’t think vision is particularly
special here. If Belinda was deaf until the incident, or lacked a sense of
touch, she could also use those new senses to gain justified beliefs, once she
verifies their coherence with her other senses. The main intuition I have here
is that Belinda can trust what she starts with, in this case primarily sound
and touch, and must validate anything else. So skeptics are right that
perception does not lead automatically to justification, Belinda perceives,
even reliably perceives, a rough wall but would not be justified in believing
that the wall is rough. But they are wrong that this matters for us, because we
can justifiably rely on innately functioning sensory equipment.

thoughts anyone has about this case, or about anything else, I’d be happy to hear.